Why Obasanjo Didn’t Honour Abiola –Odumakin | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Why Obasanjo Didn’t Honour Abiola –Odumakin

Posted: Jun 13, 2015 at 1:15 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Frontline political activist, Yinka Odumakin, was in the thick of the struggle for the reclamation of the June 12 mandate. Today, he is the National Publicity Secretary of pan Yoruba socio-political organization, Afenifere. In this interview, he speaks on the relevance of June 12, its enduring lessons and other issues relating to that historic date. Excerpts…

Today marks 22 years after the June 12, 1993, presidential election which was won by the late Chief MKO Abiola but was annulled by the military. Do you think that date is still relevant today?

Yinka Odumakin

Yinka Odumakin

June 12 like a phoenix has refused to go away and cannot go away because it was a momentous occasion in our history when we had the opportunity to resolve the nationality question and electoral cycle in one election.  The events leading to June 12 itself is a case where we had a president who had been in office for eight years and had engaged in what was called ‘endless transition’ and with hidden agenda being read into every move that he was making. He started by saying he was doing a transition, he asked politicians to go and form political parties, they form several parties, until he decreed two political parties for them. Later, he started saying he was looking for new breed politicians, banning, unbanning and rebanning some politicians. He played all kinds of shenanigans until he opened the floodgates to the new breed in our politics. But by June 12, I think Nigerians were tired of the shenanigans and all the heavenly forces combined to ensure that we had an election on June 12 that was till date remained the freest and fairest in the history of Nigeria. The late Bashorun MKO Abiola won a pan-Nigeria mandate which cuts across religious and ethnic divides. In fact, Abiola even though he operated a Muslim- Muslim ticket won in predominantly Christian areas like Cross Rivers and the rest of them. That is why there was no election like June 12 and there is none till date. it was one election that would have resolved all our nationality question in Nigeria. We just had an election in Nigeria in 2015 that was celebrated by a lot of people but the winner of that election had 82 percent of his votes from the North and 18 percent from the South. But June 12 was not like that because Abiola defeated his challenger, Tofa, in his home state of Kano. It was as if Nigeria was about to get it right until Babangida and his cabal started their moves that eventually led to the truncation of that process. They introduced the strange word ‘annulment’ into our dictionary because nobody had ever used that word until June 12. They annulled the election, Nigerians rose in angst, protests were called, the military rolled out the tanks. I remembered on July 7, 1993, when Abacha rolled out the tanks against protesters on Ikorodu Road, in one day alone, we picked 365 bodies. That started a struggle of 16 years that consumed lives, property and set this country back that till date, we have not recovered from June 12. Unless, we do the needful, Nigeria may never recover from that crisis.


There was this belief in some quarters that Abiola was betrayed by NADECO. Do you also share that view?

I don’t think such a blanket statement will be very right. NADECO as a group did not betray Abiola but there were individuals within NADECO who betrayed him. There were those who were very close to Abiola who went and form alliance with Abacha. They wrote the coup speech for Abacha. After they have made their deal with Abacha, they just deceived Abiola and walked him into it. Because the man had won the election, they played on his psyche that he should not worry that ‘Abacha will stage a coup and handover to him’. One cannot blame Abiola for falling into their trap because when you are in a desperate situation, you get all forms of advice and you begin to look for the one that makes the most sense.  Abiola should have known that he was being sold a dummy by those who had already formed an alliance with the military because there is no way Abacha can risk his own life in a coup and handover to him. What if the coup fails? So, some individuals in NADECO, power-mongers, betrayed Abiola and sold him to the military and they are still alive today. They know themselves but I don’t think NADECO betrayed Abiola throughout that struggle but individuals who are within NADECO and are saboteurs betrayed him. When Abacha died and Abiola was killed and the question was, let us have election, NADECO as a body said ‘Abiola is dead now and we must finish this struggle by ensuring a new constitution that will restructure Nigeria’ but the same people who sold Abiola to Abacha said ‘no, let us go to election’. And so this same people sold out the struggle and they went for election conducted by Abdulsalami and we are still where we are today.


Some have also argued that Abiola was the architect of his own travail given the fact that he declared himself president while Abacha was in power. Do you agree with that?

I think Abiola did the right thing in the circumstance. And that makes him a hero forever. I don’t believe that Abiola died a needless death. He died as a true Aare Ona Kakanfo, a generalissimo.  People thought because Abiola is wealthy and he wants to enjoy life, he will not have the nerve to fight that struggle but I think that bold step to confront the Abacha junta was a bold move. I think Abiola himself knew what he was going to.  I recall that after the Jos primary and he was presented the ticket, he granted an interview and I saw the tape where he was said that ‘When a community is afflicted, the community tries to appease the gods and they look for a man to carry the calabash of sacrifice, what the Yoruba call ‘ Arugba’.  That Arugba will go to the river, he may come back, he may not. Abiola said that is the kind of assignment he has been given. So, Abiola became an Arugba. Through the sacrifice he carried, we got rid of the military. It is evident because 16 years after the coming of democracy, we have not had military coming to power, although the retired military men have been coming back like Obasanjo and now, Buhari. But in terms of ruling in uniform, we have not had them. For me, if Abiola had died as a multibillionaire, will we be sitting here today talking about June 12? How many billionaires have died after Abiola? Without being immodest, the Folawiyos, the Fajemirokuns have gone after him.  When last did you call anyone and say let us talk about Folawiyo or Fajemirokun? In 1995, I was detained alongside Chief Gani Fawehinmi at Panti. We were detained on a Friday which means that we cannot be charged to court until Monday. So, we were staying in the office of an Assistant Commissioner of Police. In the night, we had to take our bath in the open in front of Panti. Fawehinmi will bathe first while I hold his clothe and watch over him so that nobody will hit him on the head with a stick. When he finishes, I will take my turn, he will wait for me. We did it the first and second night. On the third night, when we got back to the room, I asked him, ‘Chief, here we are taking our bath in the open for committing no crime just because we are fighting for what is right. Your mansion is a few metres away from this place, but here you are bathing in the open, don’t you feel humiliated?  He said: ‘Yinka, I feel nothing, my mansion in Ikeja is not where immortality is earned. It is this place that we are that will be remembered years after we have gone.’ Chief Gani Fawehinmi is gone today, nobody is talking about his house in Ikeja, but about his heroic exploits while on earth. So is the case with Abiola. When people talk about him today, nobody is talking about ITT, or the number of wives he married, everybody is talking about June 12 and his standing for a cause. There is no way we can write the history of this country without talking about MKO Abiola. He lived an eventful life. He knew he was on an assignment and that was why he made that declaration. So, I don’t think he made any mistake by making that declaration.


Looking back at the June 12 struggle and the state of the nation today, can you really say that the sacrifice you and others made has been worth it?

Anybody who does not have a deep philosophical sense, who is not deep conviction, will wonder why we went through all that given the state of affairs of the nation today. But when you are a man of depth, you know that all what we have gone through is part of history. I was glad I did what I did then and if history repeats itself, I will do it all over again because it is about forward movement of the society and our people taking a stand that ‘No, to unjust de tat. A few individuals cannot just ride roughshod over the rest of the society and say what the majority think does not matter’.  It is only people who did not fight on principle that will look back and be filled with regrets. When I look around today, most of the genuine fighters then are not anywhere. It was in fact, the opportunists who are selling out within and those who are even aiding Abacha, those who said the dictator should continue in office are the ones who are everywhere. But you don’t look at all that when you are deeply convinced about what you are fighting for.


Do you think Nigeria has done enough to immortalize Abiola for his contribution towards the democratic government we enjoy today?

Abiola has immortalized himself. The name ‘MKO Abiola’ has become a monument. Having said that, I must say that the reason why Abiola was not properly honoured is because the issues that did not allow him become president are still very much here. It is the issue about the nationality question in Nigeria. I recall that at the national conference in 2014, when a delegate got up precisely on June 12 and said the conference should got up and observe a minute silence in memory of Abiola, it is as if Abiola had come out of his grave and say he wants to reclaim his mandate again. If they saw Abiola, they could bring out a dagger and kill him again. They didn’t do that because of Abiola as a person, but because of the idea that he represented, the idea that every section of Nigeria can aspire to power. Shortly before the death of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, there was a meeting to reconcile him and Abiola. When they met, after Abiola had apologized to Awolowo, the late sage told him ‘Moshood, those who caused my travails over the years are the people you are befriending. I pray they don’t take your life.’ Abiola responded, ‘Papa, I know my people.’ But, apparently, he did not understand what Awolowo was saying. Just a little after 10 years after that discussion, his dead body was sent to Lagos. Years after his death, he is still loathed for daring to say he could get power on his own. That is why it was those who stopped Abiola from becoming president who enthroned Obasanjo. Obasanjo also has his personal complex, in terms of the fact that he wants to remain the best that can come out of Yorubaland and he sees Abiola as a threat. So, Abiola was not honoured throughout Obasanjo’s eight years in office. Even when Senate passed a resolution that they should honour him, they did not. The eight years that followed Obasanjo was the Yar’adua/Jonathan years. Jonathan tried to immortalize him by naming University of Lagos after him, but I think maybe there were not enough consultations before the decision was taken or maybe it was politicized again, that did not happen. But like I said, Abiola’s name has become a monument on its own, whether Nigeria honours him or not. Nigeria as it is cannot appreciate Abiola because what Abiola determined to do at June 12 is to give us a Nigeria that should be which those who are in charge of Nigeria as it is don’t want. So, to them honouring Abiola will amount to accepting the reality of that Nigeria that should be. So, it is not about Abiola, it is about what he fought for, stood for and died for.


What are some of the enduring lessons of June 12?

The enduring lessons of June 12 are that the possibility of making Nigeria a nation state is belated. The pan- Nigerian mandate that Abiola won pointed in that direction, that we can form a consensus when we  see a good programme. Abiola did his homework very well. I believe that if Abiola had become the president of Nigeria, he could have hit the ground running from day one because he assembles the best of minds to work with him. That document ‘Farewell to poverty’ was explicit on how he wanted to completely banish poverty from this country. When he was campaigning and got to Kano and said, ‘when I become president, no Nigerian will go to bed without food in his belly,’ and it was translated in Hausa, one man who was on the top of a tree fell down. He has never heard anything like that before. So, it was a focused campaign. Another enduring lesson of June 12 is the means of resistance. Abiola’s supporters fought until the military were restricted to the barracks. It is that kind of tenacity that is needed in nation-building process. Until we fully resolve the issues about June 12, this country is not moving anywhere. It was that issue that the 2014 national conference set out to address. Except we address those issues, at some point those issues will address us.